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Memorial Day, 1919

“This is not a day of the glorification of war, but a solemn recognition of the supreme sacrifice and terrible cost of war.”

The Rev. Myron Boozer, pastor of Medford Presbyterian Church, had begun his Memorial Day address on a day the Mail Tribune called “the most notable Memorial Day observance and the most deeply sentimental in its significance in the history of Medford.”

Friday, May 30, 1919, marked the first Memorial Day observance since the Nov. 11 Armistice of the previous year. Although the Armistice had ended fighting during WWI, it would still be almost another month before the Treaty of Versailles would formally end the “war to end war.”

The day began in Library Park (today’s Alba Park) with school children, Red Cross women dressed in white uniforms, and hundreds of residents gathering in front of the Carnegie Library. They circled around a floral column dedicated to the 40 local men who had died in the name of freedom and democracy.

Nearly 20 feet high, the patriotic memorial was fashioned from thousands of local flowers by the women of the Red Cross. Red roses were woven into its base, white roses in its middle, and clusters of blue “snakeheads” (Fritillaria) that had been hand-gathered from Jackson County forests, were molded into a tall shaft at its top. Attached on all sides were the names of the area’s fallen soldiers.

A bugle sounded and Junior Red Cross members, accompanied by the high school band, sang “Truth Is Marching On,” while tossing bouquets of red roses at the memorial’s base.

Major Robert Clancy, a Medford physician, gave a patriotic address from the library step, and then led the group in the singing of “America.”

A rifle squad from the local National Guard fired a salute to the war dead, followed by a bugler blowing “Taps.”

The gathering formed a column that included veterans of previous wars and was led by surviving veterans of the Civil War. They marched down Main Street to the bridge across Bear Creek, following the martial tunes played by the high school band.

On the bridge, to honor fallen Marines and Navy fighters, the Junior Red Cross and the women of the Red Cross dropped roses down to the waters of the creek, all the while singing, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”

After the National Guard’s rifle squad fired another salute, the crowd entered the nearby Page Theater for a presentation dedicated to those who had died in the Civil War. (The Page Theater was destroyed in a 1923 fire. A corner of the five-story building stood where a parking lot on the south side of Main Street stands today.)

The Rev. Boozer stood on a stage patriotically decorated with flags, bunting and flowers. His address was called the most important of the day.

“We are face to face with problems that war can never solve,” he said. “The blood of our heroic dead cries aloud from every field of battle, and from every grave on home or foreign soil; for the recruiting of a vast army of great hearts dedicated to the unfinished tasks they have bequeathed to us.”

Memorial Day 1919 ended with flowers lovingly placed on the graves of soldiers and sailors.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “Forgotten Voices of WWI,” a different look at the war to end war. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.